Fact: On January 1, most Americans named weight loss as their number one New Year's resolution. Another fact: By the end of this week, roughly 25% of those people will give up on that goal. By February, that number rises to one third. Come June, it's more than 50%.
Disheartened? Don't be. The point is that we put so much pressure on this time of year, creating lofty goals and tackling them at full force, only to burn out or become immediately disappointed when we don't see instantaneous results. But there is an effective approach to getting your body into gear without completely losing your mind (and intentions) along the way. It just requires a little patience—and maybe a little attitude adjustment. How about—gasp—actually enjoying the process? See how below.
It's a no-brainer, really: Turn the odds of commitment in your favor by choosing a workout that you actually enjoy, rather than opting for something that promises fast results but makes you want to chuck your sneakers out of a high-rise window just so you don't have to go. Just because yoga doesn't promise the same afterburn as HIIT doesn't mean it's not the superior choice in your case—because if you're still hitting the mat consistently in June while your interval watch has been gathering dust since February, is there really any question as to which workout is more effective?
That being said, your new favorite thing could be a trial class away. If you feel that you're plateauing or bored—or even if you love what you're currently doing but are still down to try something new—consider trying something different. Not only might this make your routine a little more interesting, but it'll challenge your body and muscle memory as well. Are you a cardio queen who tends to avoid strength training? Give those weights a try. You'd be amazed at the results.
Also remember that the fitness world is literally a playground nowadays. There's never been such a boom of out-of-the-box, super-fun workouts, from hip-hop yoga to aqua cycling to trapeze. You'll be so distracted with piquing your sense of adventure that you'll forget you're breaking a sweat.
The good news is that with so many options on the fitness market, a lot of gyms and companies provide plenty of incentive to try their classes out. Look for new-student deals at your local studios—many places will offer a monthlong trial for a fraction of their typical fee—and shop around until you find a place that feels like home. Remember, you're more likely to make it a habit if the atmosphere is comfortable and the workout is your speed, so now is the time to be picky.
On the other hand, if you're new to your town or neighborhood or just don't know where to begin, it might be worth investigating a service like ClassPass or FitReserve, which curate all your local studios and let you trial several under a monthly blanket fee. Even if you just do it for a few months, it's a great way to get a taste of what you like.
…especially if you're one of those people who only go to the gym for the classes or the cardio machines. Just one intensive session with a personal trainer can help you better understand how to approach your personal goals and finally get you acquainted with those mystifying weight machines. Not to mention tweaking your form, which alone can be the difference between a fat-blasting, muscle-sculpting routine and a recipe for injury.
If the price tag is your only hesitation, keep in mind that many gyms offer free or heavily discounted sessions with fitness pros upon signing up for a membership. If you're already a longtime member, ask someone at the front desk if there are any deals available. (And don't be afraid to negotiate.)
Because there's an app for that—several hundred, in fact. From yoga to interval training to running, there are countless digital coaches that are merely a swipe or two away for the cost of chump change or nothing at all. Real talk: We credit C25K (free) for getting our running-phobic butts into gear. And we actually like it now. Really!
Plus, more and more boutique gyms are offering online streaming sessions and apps so you can take your workout anywhere, even if it's just the comfort of your own living room. Struggling to get motivated for your Kayla Itsines session (starting at $13) when your bed is in the next room? Recruit a friend so you can keep each other in check—no carpool to the gym required.
Focusing on hard-and-fast numbers isn't just torturous, it's often inaccurate. Factors like water retention and your menstrual cycle can make your weight fluctuate up to 10 pounds in a single day. There's also the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, meaning you could be whittling your waist without seeing the needle on the scale move at all. But you're not necessarily thinking that when you're standing there looking at that unforgiving number. Instead, you might be blaming the nibble of chocolate you had the night before, or vowing to double down on punishing workouts.
(Rationally, you would have to eat an additional 3500 calories in a day—in addition to the roughly 1500 you need for basic survival—to gain a single pound. But it's hard to remember that in the moment!)
Instead, track your progress in a fashion that's far less ironclad and way more upbeat. This could be noticing how your clothes fit, or even taking weight loss out of the equation entirely and instead noticing how much stronger you are, how much easier that last run was, or even how you can now carry your groceries up the stairs of your five-floor walk-up without breaking a sweat. Give yourself a break and celebrate every little victory.
Cutting out every questionable part of your diet just isn't sustainable or healthy—not to mention that crash diets tend to have a less-than-ideal impact on your personality.
Instead, pick one vice you could probably do without and nix it, even if just temporarily—chocolate, diet soda, your nightly glass of wine, whatever. Maybe even switch out different indulgences every month to balance things out. The point is that you're maintaining a reasonable sense of control without feeling deprived.
Nothing is too minuscule. Have a tendency to take the elevator? Vow to hit the stairs instead. Park a few blocks away from home so you can guarantee yourself a bit of a stroll after your commute. Take your morning coffee to go… on a walk around the neighborhood. During your next Netflix binge, do situps or jumping jacks during the show's opening credits. Not only are you sneaking in mini workouts, but making yourself more active in general is likely to foster healthy habits on a grander scale in the long run.
It's not all go, go, go. Giving yourself a break is just as important in order to avoid burnout or injury. You might be tempted to throw yourself into a daily workout routine, but easing your way into it (every other day, for example) might be a smarter (and more sustainable) route. Feeling sore but still itching to get moving? Opt for active rest, like a gentle yoga class or an easy walk. And remember that working out your brain is still fair game. A regular meditation practice provides major wellness benefits while giving your muscles a breather.
Why look at getting in shape as a necessary evil? The first step is to stop looking at working out as a means to something—be it crop-top-worthy abs or undoing a little holiday padding—and instead see it as a fun, daily adventure. Focus on the awesome instructor, the gym's great community, those crazy endorphins after a killer sweat sesh, or the newfound energy and focus you have to tackle the day. Toned, strong muscles? Well, that's just a nice side effect.